7 Biggest Lies About Sunscreen

Maressa Brown

sun protection productsThe FDA wants to shine some light on something that we may think we need to stay well, but could actually be making us sick ... sun protection products. With new sunscreen rules and regs, the government agency hopes to clear up a lot of the confusion and frustration out there about the plethora of lotions, sprays, and sticks that line drugstore shelves every summer. Although having so many options seems like it could be a good thing, labels and claims of sunblocks and sunscreens have spiraled a wee bit out of control, so it's good to hear the FDA plans to rein 'em in and encourage manufacturers to create more effective products that are "easier to use."

Here, the top seven misconceptions we all have about sunscreen and how the new rules and regs will attempt to clarify them ...

  1. It won't necessarily keep you cancer-free. Currently the FDA only requires testing for ultraviolet B rays that cause sunburn, not ultraviolet A ones that lead to skin cancer. And best to also bear in mind: There's a lot of research that shows even "effective" sunscreens may contain certain ingredients (like retinyl palmitate) that could speed the development of skin cancer.
  2. Not all sunscreens protect equally. Not all sunscreens and sunblocks prevent against both ultraviolet B and A rays. So, thankfully, under the new rules, sunscreens that don't guard against ultraviolet A rays will sport a label that reads, "This product has been shown only to help prevent sunburn, not skin cancer or early skin aging." And those that guard against both will be labeled "broad-spectrum."
  3. Don't buy "waterproof" and "sweatproof." As in, don't buy the claims. Manufacturers are uhm ... "over-reaching," you could say, with these labels. In fact, the FDA will prevent sunscreen marketing of the future from making these claims, because they're "exaggerations of performance."
  4. "Water resistance" isn't permanent. We all sort of already knew that if you put on "water resistant" sunscreen and went in the pool, you'd probably have to re-apply at some point. But knowing when exactly was kind of up in the air. Well, now, the FDA says that any product claiming to be water resistant must also say how much time we can expect to get SPF protection while in the water. Whew!
  5. Most SPF labels are useless. SPF is supposed to indicate the amount of sun exposure needed to cause sunburn on sunscreen-protected skin vs. unprotected skin. But research hasn't proven that this holds water, so to speak. That's why the FDA is proposing capping the highest SPF value at 50, unless companies can do testing to support SPFs of 75 and 100.
  6. Sunblock doesn't exist. It's a false claim, plain and simple, and the term will be banned under the new FDA rules.
  7. There's no such thing as "immediate protection." At least not until manufacturers submit data proving that their products provide this to the FDA and get the FDA's express approval.

Although it's good to know that the FDA seems to want to make things right and help consumers get the most effective and safe products out of manufacturers, I have a feeling there will be some pushback. Plus, knowing that the industry has gotten away with all of these false or twisted claims for so long leaves me quite skeptical that they'll ever create products we can fully trust. It's a shame.

The only silver lining is that there are watchdog groups out there like the Environmental Working Group, which offers health- and eco-friendly recommendations for sun protection. But, if you're still suspicious, there's always the option to just stay out of the sun altogether!

What frustrates you the most about sun protection products?


Image via Robert S. Donovan/Flickr

Read More